DragonCon marches on Atlanta
Thousands of sci-fi, comic book fans in town for 20th annual convention

ATLANTA - Allen Hansard did not want to be one of 500 Supermen at this year's DragonCon parade.

Determined to stand out among hundreds of sorcerers, intergalactic soldiers, superheroes and other sci-fi characters, Hansard spent weeks on his Hawkman costume. The gold helmet alone took him three months, and the gray wings cost $1,000 at a costume shop.

On Saturday, Hansard got his payoff: Not another Hawkman in the lineup of more than 1,000 parade participants.

'It's never been done before,' Hansard said. 'I like to do characters that are kind of unique, kind of difficult.'

The DragonCon parade is one of the highlights of the four-day event. Billed as the country's largest annual convention for fans of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, comics and art, games and computers - DragonCon features more than 600 hours of panels, workshops, demonstrations and discussions with authors, editors, artists, game designers and media personalities.

DragonCon is named for its beginnings in the Dragon Alliance of Gamers and Role-Players, a local science fiction and gaming group. The first convention came in 1987, and had about 1,400 attendees. By 1989, famed author Anne McCaffrey was lured as the convention's guest of honor, and by 1990, suspense writer Tom Clancy joined the fun.

In only eight years, convention attendance topped 10,000. By 1999, more than 20,000 were descending on the city. In 2005 and 2006, convention attendance reached 30,000.

While much of the convention is contained at the Marriott Marquis and Atlanta Hilton and Towers hotels, attendees can be seen making a scene downtown, taking their pride for Star Trek, Star Wars, Middle Earth, Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or their favorite super hero to the streets.

Some of the more popular parade regulars are nearly as famous as the sci-fi celebrities who make appearances at the conference. Matt Pfingsten posed as the famous Star Wars wookie, Chewbacca, with admirers before the parade began. The Nashville, Tenn., freelance film and video editor has marched in all six DragonCon parades.

'For me, it's a big party and a family and a lot of fun,' Pfingsten said.

And DragonCon still attracts new faces to the party. Cindy Pickard, a retired grade school teacher from Scottsdale, Ariz., was a first-time attendee.

'I'm a sci-fi fan, but this is my very first convention ever,' said Pickard, a big fan of the now-canceled show 'Firefly' who was dressed in a soldier's uniform from the show, complete with gun, backpack and helmet. 'Last year, some people came to DragonCon and it sounded so cool I just thought that's what I have to do next year.'